Study Highlights Scale of Challenge to Reduce Antipsychotics for Dementia

A new study from UK researchers suggests more people with dementia may be receiving antipsychotic prescriptions than previously thought. The study is published in the journal BMC Psychiatry.

Antipsychotics can be used for people with dementia to help combat challenging behavioural symptoms such as severe agitation. Moves to reduce their use came after a study funded by Alzheimer’s Research UK showed they doubled the risk of death in people with dementia when taken over a prolonged period. Since then the charity has called for a reduction in their use, and last year backed a Dementia Action Alliance campaign calling for patients with dementia to have their prescriptions reviewed.

Researchers at Aston University and the University of East Anglia worked with NHS Kent and Medway to determine how many people with dementia were being prescribed antipsychotics, and to implement medication reviews aimed at reducing the number of people receiving these drugs.

As part of the study, they collected data from 59 GP practices – 98.3% of practices in the area – and found that over 15% of people who had been diagnosed with dementia were receiving low-dose antipsychotics at the start of the study. When they compared this to data from the government’s National Dementia and Antipsychotic Prescribing Audit, they found that figures from this audit were much lower, with just under half of GP practices taking part in the audit, and 6.8% of people with dementia being prescribed antipsychotics. The researchers concluded that the numbers of people being prescribed the drugs may have been under-estimated.

Dr Marie Janson of Alzheimer’s Research UK, the UK’s leading dementia research charity, said: “Findings from Alzheimer’s Research UK highlighted the dangers of antipsychotics nearly four years ago, and the recent national audit showed positive steps are now being taken to reduce their use. This new study backs up the national audit’s findings that there is still some way to go to ensure patients across the country benefit from moves to reduce the use of these drugs. Though this research only looked at one area of the UK, these findings highlight the potential scale of the antipsychotics challenge and underline the need to keep up momentum on this issue.

“Antipsychotics should only be given to people with dementia when there is no other option for dealing with challenging behaviour, and their use must be carefully monitored. We know that doctors face a difficult task to tackle these symptoms, and safe, alternative treatments are urgently needed – such treatments can only come from research.”

This material has been published with the kind permission of Alzheimer Research UK.

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